Caleb Mozzocco attended the recent opening of Jeff Smith’s Bone exhibit at the Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library and Wexler Center and the panel discussion with Jeff and Scott McCloud. He’s posted extensive notes about the exchange, so if you missed it, this is a very good summary.
He spent a few years trying to sell the strip to the syndicates, and got far enough that he was being flown into New York for interviews and asked repeatedly for six-week batches of examples, “but something was missing.”
It was a frustrating time for him, but makes for amusing anecdotes now, as he was being given such suggestions as, “Just lose all the human characters and the dragons, and focus on the Bones in Boneville,” or “Have the Bones talk in thought balloons,” because that’s what Garfield did, and, at the time, Garfield was at the height of its popularity.
Then came the next book to influence his move to comics: Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, which was, at the time, gaining mainstream newspaper attention, an extremely unusual occurrence back then.
“I’d never seen anyone deal with a comic in such a cinematic way. He didn’t have any of that, ‘Meanwhile, in Commissioner Gordon’s office,’ he just cut to a different scene, and suddenly it was daylight and you were in a different place,” Smith said. “We’re a very visual society, we all go to the movies and watch TV, we understand cutting to a different scene. I was used to comics treating you like you were retarded.”
“And that lead to the brief period where you portrayed the Bone cousins as these dark, aging vigilantes,” McCloud deadpanned. “The Dark Bones.”
Then came the final book that set his course, given to him by his mother
She was New England for some reason, and was in a comic shop for some reason-“I’m not even sure what she was doing there,” Smith said. “What were you doing there?” he asked, looking to the audience.
Again his father shouted to the stage, “Because we have a son that likes comics!”
There she bought a copy of The Tick #1, a comic that “changed it for me,” Smith said. Here was a comic that one guy was doing all by himself, and it was hilarious. So he thought to heck with the gatekeepers of the comics pages telling him to have the Bones talk in thought balloons because Garfield does, he was going to make comics.